Journey to Wholeness
Boundaries In Our Lives
by Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
What is a boundary? Merriam-Webster defines it as “something that indicates or fixes a
limit or extent.” The author, Anne Katherine, M.A. in Where to Draw the Line: How to
Set Healthy Boundaries Everyday, says, “A boundary is a limit that promotes integrity.”
She goes on to say, “In short your boundaries-or your defenses-create a corridor through
which your life has moved.”
Let’s talk about the limits or extents as they relate to our everyday lives. An important differentiation is between boundaries and defenses. Boundaries tend, most of the time, to be consciously chosen while defenses are in the unconscious part of our mind. We come into this world as totally symbiotic beings, one with our biological mothers. Quickly we begin to differentiate, developing as a separate organism, moving slowly toward independence.
Fast forward to teens and into young adulthood. One hopes that this process is a healthy
one where the person is learning healthy differentiation or boundaries.
As adults most of us struggle with knowing the difference between a defense and a boundary. Anne Katherine helps us to think about this with the lens she calls integrity.
“By the limits you set, you protect the integrity of your day, your energy and spirit, the
health of your relationships, the pursuits of your heart.” She goes on to say, “A boundary
is like a membrane that keeps an organism intact. It lets positive things in. It keeps harmful things out. In this way it operates quite differently from defenses, which
discriminately keeps things out.”
Think about your day and how many times you make decisions about a limit or boundary
for yourself or one you share with others. It could be about time, space, tasks, food, dress and appearance, emotion or interpersonal interactions. Boundaries are expressed in our
choices regarding these things. People are quite different in the way their boundaries are
Ernest Hartmann, MD has done extensive research on what he calls thick and thin boundaries. He writes about it in Boundaries in the Mind: A New Psychology of
Personality. Thick boundary people are more black and white, seeing things as good or
bad, us or them. They may suppress or deny strong feelings though body indicators like
heart rate, blood pressure or muscle tension betray their agitation. Thin boundary people are highly sensitive in a variety of ways and from an early age. Their boundaries are
easily crossable and they see life in shades of gray.
Go to www.youremotionaltype.com and find a short questionnaire to determine if you are a thick or thin boundary person. A longer one is in Dr. Hartmann’s book. His research
shows, and it is agreed upon by many brain scientists, that these ways of behaving are in
the hard wiring of the brain.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC,
LCSW is a counselor, educator
and author. For counseling
engagements or information
on Neurobehavioral Programs
or Imago Couple therapy call
913-322-5622. For more
information about Jude
LaClaire or the Kansas City
Holistic Centre go to